The U.S. Missile Defense Agency in January halted deliveries of Raytheon Co. (RTN)’s most advanced warhead for the nation’s anti-missile interceptors after a December test failure, according to congressional auditors.
The warhead failed in January 2010 because of a “quality control event,” and again in December because of an undetermined glitch, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said in its annual assessment of U.S. missile defense programs, released today in Washington.
Lieutenant General Patrick O’Reilly, head of the Missile Defense Agency, told the GAO that, “based on the issues that arose” in the December test, he ordered a delivery halt of completed warheads, according to the report. Raytheon continues to work on components of the warhead that were deemed not part of the December failure, the GAO said.
“This delay is in effect until such time as the root cause of the failure is determined,” said missile agency spokesman Richard Lehner. Eleven warheads in varying stages of completion are affected, he said. “The Missile Defense Agency and its industry partners continue to focus on the root cause investigation,” Lehner said.
The 2010 tests were intended to demonstrate the warhead works as designed. The Missile Defense Agency has continued a pattern started by President George W. Bush’s administration in 2002 to accelerate the purchase and fielding of unproven systems, the GAO said.
The Raytheon warhead is a non-explosive, hit-to-kill weapon, designed to pulverize an incoming ballistic missile by colliding with it at high speed. It separates from its booster and flies on its own for an interception, guided by internal sensors.
Production and fielding of the advanced warheads “has gotten ahead of testing,” according to the report. “Even though the warhead has failed both intercept attempts, 12 of 23 have already been delivered.”
$41 Billion Network
The Raytheon warhead is the core weapon in the $41 billion U.S. network of ground-based interceptor missiles linked by satellites, radar and communications.
The 30 missiles are in silos at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, as a defense against North Korean missiles, including 10 with the warheads that have failed, the GAO said.
Raytheon, the world’s largest missile maker, assembles the warheads at its plant in Tucson, Arizona. John Patterson, a company spokesman, declined to comment on the delivery halt, referring questions to the Missile Defense Agency.
Boeing Co. (BA), based in Chicago, is the prime contractor on the system. Northrop Grumman Corp. (NOC), Orbital Sciences Corp. (ORB) and Raytheon are the main subcontractors. Raytheon has made the warhead for the interceptor missiles since 1999.
Raytheon fell 48 cents, or 0.9 percent, to $50.80 at 4:15 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading of 1.59 million shares. The drop was the most since March 16.
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